Friday, May 04, 2007

Bethlehem mayor wants more funds dedicated to city parks

With nearly $2 billion in proposed development, Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan has a plan to extract ''millions of dollars'' more from developers to pay for park upgrades, fields and other recreational programs.

Exactly how much that new recreation fee will be, Callahan is still researching. But, between the Sands BethWorks casino and redevelopment of Martin Tower, Callahan said upping the city's fee -- now at $200 per residential unit -- will stockpile so much cash that the city can get a head start on future parks such as the greenway, a two-mile linear park along a old railroad bed, and a 100-foot boat launch on Sand Island West.

'The parks are in need of improvements, and this is the fair way to do it,'' Callahan said.

On Thursday, city officials will unveil a new recreation plan draft to the Planning Commission, and City Council could vote to adopt in as early as two months. There's nothing new in the recreation plan, written by Urban and Research Development Corp. of Bethlehem. Much of the plan had been laid out in smaller, master plans over the years, but city officials say it provides the city with a bigger, long-term look at what the city should be doing for its parks. The city will continue to work out the fee amount, which will likely include both residential and commercial developments.

The higher fee must be in place before subdivision plans are approved. That means structures like the $50 million North Street Tower won't be subject to a higher fee. But projects like the BethWorks development and $300 million Martin Tower residential development are still on the table, city officials say.

It's difficult to say how much money the city could reap from higher fees, though the mayor estimates ''millions.''

City planner Darlene Heller said the city hadn't added many homes for decades, but since 2003, the city has approved 1,488 new homes. That comes out to $297,600 with the current fee. However, if the city imposed the same fee Bethlehem Township has -- $1,500 per residential unit -- that comes out to $2.2 million.

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